Bob Dylan and 20 Other Smarty-Pants Reveal the Meaning of Life

John Cleese in Monty Pythons The Meaning of Life
John Cleese in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life | Universal Pictures
John Cleese in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life | Universal Pictures

For as long as humans have been alive they've attempted to deduce, debate, and decry this nagging, burning question: What is the meaning of life? We don't presume to have all the answers. In fact, it'd be odd and presumptuous if we did. Instead, we present to you 20 men and women who've pondered the question in recent history, selected for their wisdom. We don't agree with all of them, but we can't deny the logic. Read on and arrive at your own conclusions.


"Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it."

Viktor Frankl

"Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human."

"Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities."
A Game of Thrones

Joseph Campbell

"Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning."

Patti Smith

"In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth."

Frantz Fanon

"Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity."
–The Wretched of the Earth

Albert Camus

"I shall tell you a great secret, my friend. Do not wait for the last judgment, it takes place every day."

Madeleine L'Engle

"Just because we don't understand doesn't mean that the explanation doesn't exist."
–A Wrinkle in Time

"Every man’s conscience is vile and depraved / You cannot depend on it to be your guide when it’s you who must keep it satisfied."
–"The Man In The Long Black Coat"

Kahlil Gibran

"Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself."
–The Prophet

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Do you hear me?" Aunty Ifeka said. "Your life belongs to you and you alone."
—Half of a Yellow Sun

J.M. Coetzee

"I'm going to end up in a hole in the ground... And so are you. So are we all."

"Without music, life would be a mistake."

"We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives."
–Nobel Prize Lecture, 1993


"I wish I’d a knowed more people. I would a loved ‘em all. If I’d knowed more, I would a loved more."
–Song of Solomon

Anna Paquin

"I don't know what it is that I'm doing, but I'm really enjoying myself. And I'm free to do it as much as I want."

Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"

John Darnielle

"There are only two stories: either you go forward or you die."
—Wolf in White Van

"The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time."

Mark Kozelek

"We're all human and life is complicated."

"I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all."
—"Both Sides Now"

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

"Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. And, finally, here are some completely gratuitous pictures of penises to annoy the censors and to hopefully spark some sort of controversy, which, it seems, is the only way, these days, to get the jaded, video-sated public off their fucking arses and back in the sodding cinema. Family entertainment? Bollocks. What they want is filth: people doing things to each other with chainsaws during tupperware parties, babysitters being stabbed with knitting needles by gay presidential candidates, vigilante groups strangling chickens, armed bands of theatre critics exterminating mutant goats. Where's the fun in pictures? Oh, well, there we are. Here's the theme music. Goodnight."

Eric Vilas-Boas is a writer and editor at Thrillist.